David Sharpton, believed to be Utah's longest-living AIDS patient, doesn't consider himself a victim.
People with AIDS are "first and foremost" people, he says."I'm not a victim. I'm far from a victim. I'm a person who is living with AIDS," Sharpton told health-care providers at a perinatal outreach conference at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center Friday.
Sharpton, 31, has lived with AIDS for nearly six years. He said he contracted the disease in a homosexual relationship.
"According to my doctor, I'm the longest-living AIDS patient in Utah right now. I'm very proud of that," he said. Sharpton moved to Utah from Dallas shortly after testing positive for HIV, the precursor to acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Sharpton said AIDS patients in Utah live shorter lives than those in other states.
"Most people don't live past two years with this disease," he said. Why? "It's the lack of support. The emotional support goes down the tubes."
Since contracting the disease, Sharpton's life has been filled with a constant variety of illnesses. It's wearing him out.
"I have lived with AIDS for a long time, but it's starting to come down to death," he said.
Sharpton said AIDS has only recently become a heterosexual issue. Basketball star Magic Johnson's testing HIV positive has brought the issue to the forefront. Society did not want to deal with AIDS when it was considered a homosexual problem, Sharpton said.
"It was, `Let the faggots die,' plain and simple," he said.
Little was know about AIDS when Sharpton first tested positive for the virus in 1983. The disease was then known as gay-related immune deficiency syndrome, or GRIDS, he said.
"My doctor told me, `Mr. Sharpton, you tested positive for AIDS. You're going to die.' That was basically my introduction to AIDS."
Sharpton said he has survived because of a supportive doctor, family and friends. He has taken many types of medications including AZT and DDI.
"It's been a very challenging experience, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world," Sharpton said.
An AIDS patient will incur a $200,000 medical bill before dying. Sharpton said he has $6,000 in bills that will never get paid. He does not work and lives on Social Security disability.